|Rating: PG-13 (for questionable language and adult situations)
Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not
being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.
Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)
By the time Sergeant Hall returned with an overloaded tray from the chow hall, the treatment room had been cleaned up and the over bright fluorescents turned off. Doc was pouring water into the coffee urn and Caz was seated at Hall’s desk, meticulously noting her treatment of the medic’s wound into his medical record. She looked up with a grin.
"Sorry I’m using your desk, Sergeant. Just finishing up the chart on Hockenbury’s head. I think he’ll live." Cassidy signed her name to the note and stood up, stretching her back.
Hall set the tray on one of the gurneys, careful to keep from spilling anything on the clean white sheet. "That’s good to hear, ma’am. I don’t want to break in another new medic. Pugh is going to be the death of me as it is." He pulled the cloth from the platter, revealing a generous amount of food, more than enough for one small doctor.
At her questioning look, he glanced over at Hockenbury who was flipping the switch for the coffee machine. "Figured Doc Hock here might’ve missed chow, too."
Cassidy smiled at Doc as he joined them, his new bandage overly white against the growing bruise. His fatigue was evident in the slackness of his facial muscles and his near-clumsy, shambling walk. But the rigid tenseness in his shoulders was gone, leaving him loose-limbed and fluid, relaxed as he reached for a bread roll.
"Thanks, Sergeant Hall." Hockenbury’s words were warm but economical. He took the roll back with him to the coffee urn and peered into the top. Shrugging, the tall medic leaned back on the counter and took a bite of bread.
Hall cleared his throat and pulled his hat back on his head. "Well, ma’am, I’ll be going now." He paused at the screen door, glancing back at Cassidy and Doc, clearly torn between issuing a warning that might have no basis in fact and just minding his own business. He let his Southern upbringing win out and kept his mouth shut. "Good night." And he was gone into the darkness.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The dinner tray sat, largely untouched on the desk between them. Hockenbury had carried it into Caz’s office, where they had each claimed a chair, picking halfheartedly at the food and finally giving up.
"I’m just not hungry, Caz." Doc looked at her with a heavy-lidded gaze, half-hidden in the shadows in the corner of the office.
Cassidy put down her fork, shoving the plate away. "Me, neither. It’s not your head, now, is it? Not feeling nauseous or dizzy or having blurred vision?" She stood and moved around the desk, reaching for the gooseneck to adjust its light more on the medic so she could see him better.
Hockenbury stretched out one long arm, his fingers closing around hers before she could touch the lamp. "No, it’s not my head." Not relinquishing his grip, Doc brought her hand to his face, gently brushing her palm over his cheek, the evening stubble tickling them both. Raising his gaze to hers, Doc very carefully bit her index finger, smiling as she yanked her hand away.
"You carnivore!" Cassidy placed one hand on each arm of Hockenbury’s chair, leaning in closely, the dim light from the gooseneck lamp spilling over her shoulder. "How about I get rid of these dishes and you get us some coffee? Meet you back in here in say…a minute?" She lowered her head, kissing him gently on the nose.
Hockenbury sighed deeply, wanting nothing more than to pull her to him again, forcing himself to keep the tattered remains of his emotions in check. This day had worn him out with its highs and lows. Grinning up at her, he felt his heart lurch in his chest and he took a deep breath, hoping the oxygen would steady his racing pulse.
Working quickly, Caz dumped the remains of the tray into a garbage can and sealed it tightly. The plates and flatware she stacked neatly and placed by the door for Hockenbury to drop by the mess hall on his way back to his hootch. She walked slowly through the dispensary, making sure all the equipment was either turned off or placed on standby. Only the few night-lights glowed, giving the impression of candlelight in the big room.
Hockenbury turned to her, two mugs of coffee balanced on the palms of his hands. "Black, right?"
Cassidy nodded and led him back to the office. The Venetian blinds were already closed, had been ever since she’d arrived at Camp Barnett. Nothing suspicious there. The little lamp, its bulb turned to the wall, provided a warm glow that was practically invisible from the screen door. Caz bit her lower lip, her head arguing with her heart.
Captain Cassidy knew the rules. Knew all about fraternization and the fact that it was NOT allowed. It just seemed a little overly harsh in her own, non-combat world. Back in the states, and even in Saigon, nurses and medics not only dated but cohabitated openly. Well, maybe not openly. But the couples Caz knew weren’t going out of their way to hide it, either. She sighed, knowing everything had changed when she set foot in Camp Barnett. Tan Son Nhut might as well have been a thousand miles away.
But what it came down to was this: Caz couldn’t ignore the tugs in her heart anymore than she could quit breathing. And she knew Hockenbury felt the same.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Doc sat behind the desk, his coffee centered on the blotter. He’d pulled his cigarettes and lighter from his pocket and carefully shook one from the pack, placing it between his lips. Lighting up, he took a deep drag, pulling the soothing smoke deep into his lungs. The hit of nicotine calmed his nerves and his eyes slid closed with the comfort of it.
Sipping from her plastic mug, Cassidy watched him from the office door, saw his hunched shoulders flatten out in relaxation. She smiled, glancing one more time at the screened front door before entering the office and dropping into the visitor’s chair.
"Feels good to just sit down, doesn’t it?" Caz set her coffee on the desk, stretching her legs out in front of her with a sigh.
Hockenbury opened his eyes, squinting through the rising smoke. He moved the c-rat can to one side, clearing his view of the young captain. His grey-green eyes met hers, and they stared into one another’s eyes for a long moment. Doc blinked when she suddenly stood.
"Just thought of something. Something Monroe left behind after he, after he, well, you know." Cassidy stepped around the desk, hips swiveling to avoid the sharp corner. She knelt down, pulling out the bottom drawer and shoved her arm in, rummaging around among the loose papers. At last she smiled, hauling out a small metal flask.
"Just what the doctor ordered, Doc. A little Irish in your coffee?"
Doc quickly grabbed both mugs, holding them out for her to add an inch or so of the liquor. He shook his head slowly, wonderingly, as he watched her hide the bottle away again. And jumped as she put one warm hand on his knee, leaning her weight on him as she began to rise.
"Sorry." Her smile was unapologetic and she let her fingers linger a moment, before trailing them across his shoulders as she returned to her seat on the other side of the desk. Caz sat down, crossing her legs and swinging one booted foot carelessly.
Hockenbury slid her mug across the blotter, his fingers lightly brushing hers as she took her coffee. He sat back, studying her, his own mug resting in one hand against his chest. He recognized her expression, eyes unblinking and far away, the muscle in her jaw clenching and unclenching. He’d seen it on the faces of Team Viking hundreds of times, hell, he’d seen it in his own mirror. After Phu An. After any number of missions that had brought them to the brink of disaster.
"Caz, you okay?" Leaning forward, he looked closely at her; saw the fine tremor in her hands as she cupped them around her mug, almost as if she were cold and trying to warm herself with the hot liquid. Reaching across the desk, he gently removed the coffee from her grip, setting it off to the side and took both her hands in his.
Cassidy stared at him, the day’s events finally catching up to her. She found herself unable to block the image of the silent helicopter hanging over the trees. At that moment, she would have bet any amount of money that there was no hope; that the bird would have to catch a skid, flip, crash and mutilate everyone on board. But it hadn’t happened. McKay had managed to drop the Huey into the field, with less grace than usual, sure, but still landed it safely. The gunner had survived, partially due to her own skills. And Hockenbury was here, whole, safe and looking at her with worried eyes. Glancing at his temple, she shivered lightly. Not COMPLETELY whole.
She sighed, taking in a deep breath and blowing it out again. "I’m sorry, Doc, I just spooked myself there." Caz looked up at him, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Blinking rapidly, she managed to hold back most of them. "I wasn’t expecting, well, I wasn’t expecting THIS." She waved one hand rapidly back and forth between them.
Laughing softly, the medic shook his head. "Me, neither." He took back her hand, playing with her fingers, marveling at how soft her skin felt against his rough calluses. Hockenbury was wondering if ALL her skin was as soft when they both heard the squeaking of the dispensary steps.
Caz reclaimed her hands, backhanding the few stray tears from her cheeks. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Be right back."
Hockenbury watched her pause in the doorway, smoothing down the front of her shirt and pushing her unruly hair back over her ears. With a sigh, he picked up his mug and took a sip, raising an eyebrow in appreciation of the whiskey.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Five minutes later, Dr. Cassidy had dealt with the young private who’d unwisely eaten mystery meat while on a pass into Saigon that afternoon. She’d made sure he wasn’t dehydrated and administered an anti-emetic, reassuring him that he probably WOULD see the morning, although possibly from the vantage point of the latrine. The kid couldn’t tell if she was pulling his leg or not and left feeling not much better than when he’d arrived.
Caz smiled after him as he disappeared into the night, pulling the screen door tightly closed.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Hockenbury had finished his cigarette, the butt carefully stubbed out in the empty c-rat can. He’d drained his Irish coffee and was starting to feel almost human again, in a decidedly good way. After his old girlfriend had found herself another man, Doc had pretty much forgotten about that aspect of the world. Captain Cassidy’s appearance had changed his mind in a hurry.
The medic hadn’t realized he’d closed his eyes until Caz spoke, her voice soft and husky. He looked up at her, finding her face shadowed in the dimness of the office. Hockenbury laughed softly as she smiled, her teeth appearing like the Cheshire cat.
Cassidy sank into her chair, tucking one leg underneath her. The night air, heavy with humidity, did little to cool Caz’s flushed cheeks. She picked up her mug, taking another sip and felt the heat from the whiskey as it burned its way down her throat. Even her skin felt as if it were on fire. Maybe it’s not the liquor. She glanced sideways at Hockenbury and felt a fluttering in her chest as he looked steadily back at her, a half smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Doc lit another cigarette, the flame from his lighter briefly illuminating his face and the dark bruise spreading around his left eye.
"So, got a husband ‘n’ kids around I should know about?" Caz heard the edge underneath his deliberately casual tone. And realized that he wasn’t interested in any quick affair. She leaned back in her chair, studying the ceiling for a long moment. She lowered her gaze, met his eyes with her own.
"Nope. How about you?" Picking up her mug, she drained it, coughing as the last of the whiskey blistered her esophagus. She wiped the back of her mouth on her sleeve, watching him closely.
He smiled at her, cigarette burning between the fingers of his left hand. "Nah, no kids, no husband." He paused, making her wait. "An’ no wife or girlfriend, neither."
Caz raised an eyebrow, lips curling slightly upward. She watched him looking steadily back at her, feeling an electric awareness flowing between them. The silence was easy, comfortable and Caz felt her muscles relax as the medic blew smoke rings in the darkness.
"Doc?" Caz regarded him thoughtfully. "How can you go out there, knowing the danger, knowing the odds? I don’t think I could get off the chopper."
Doc reached down, pulling one drawer partway open and propped a booted foot on it. Draping an arm across his raised knee, he thought for a moment, cigarette hanging loosely from his fingers.
"Well, for one thing, I ain’t got a choice in the matter." He pursed his lips pensively. "An’ somebody’s gotta patch up those guys an’ bring ‘em back. Might as well be me." He brought the cigarette to his mouth, taking a deep drag.
"Do ya carry anything other than your .45? I know some medics carry M-16s but I don’t see how with their gear ‘n’ all." Caz watched the smoke rising lazily to the ceiling, slow to realize how long Doc was taking with his answer. She turned to look at him and found him studying the floor, his neck bowed and one hand gently massaging his bandaged temple. "Doc?"
He stubbed out his cigarette in the c-rat can and shifted into a more comfortable position, raising his eyes to hers. "Kinda long story there, Caz. I don’ carry a weapon at all." Doc watched her expression grow puzzled as she straightened up in her chair.
"Whatcha mean? I thought all the medics got .45s?" Cassidy dropped both feet to the floor, crossing her arms over her chest. Leaning back in the chair, she practically vanished into the shadows of the corner.
Hockenbury sighed. "We get ‘em, but we don’ hafta carry ‘em. My MOS says I don’ hafta an’ I won’t. I don’ carry a weapon an’ I don’ shoot people. Period." He sucked in his breath, waiting for the young doctor to suddenly find she needed to be elsewhere. He desperately wanted to scratch at the tape over his eyebrow but didn’t dare move, afraid that he would provide the impetus she needed to send him off into the night.
Caz watched him from the safety of the shadows. She felt the tension vibrating in the air between them and wondered just what reaction he was expecting from her. And then she knew – his fear slamming into her mind with enough force that it made her wince. He thinks I’m gonna run! She sighed, knowing she would have to choose her words carefully, and would have to keep her shock at knowing that he went willingly into the bush unarmed hidden from him.
"So, are you a C.O.?" She inched closer to him, the wheels of her chair grinding slightly from disuse, bringing her into the faint illumination spilling from the gooseneck.
His facial muscles struggled with the effort to maintain his neutral expression. He forced a small laugh at her words. Doc had explained this so many times to so many people, mostly people who were actively yelling at him. But THIS time was his one opportunity to get it right and he prayed silently that he could pull it off. Caz had come to mean a great deal to him in a very short period of time. She had become his anchor, his reason to come home unharmed from the missions. He’d never really cared one way or the other before. NOW, it mattered. He took a deep breath.
"Caz, I can’t be a C.O. Ya gotta be a Mennonite or something like that. I’m a Presbyterian. I’m against the war, but I’m here for these guys." He swept his arm to encompass the camp outside the dispensary. "And I won’t kill anybody. I just go out with my buddies an’ do what I can to get ‘em back home in one piece." His hands were clenched into tight fists in his lap. He hadn’t realized that Caz had managed to edge around the desk until she carefully laid one slender hand on his forearm. He raised his head, grey-green eyes full of apprehension and the anticipation of sorrow.
"Doc, I am NOT running away." She felt his muscles twitch with surprise under her fingers and saw his eyes grow wide with amazement. "Really. I can’t imagine the kind of courage it takes to walk out there unarmed. It floors me. I don’t have that in me. I sit back here, waiting for YOU to bring me these guys. Easy to be brave inside a clinic that’s surrounded by guards an’ guns an’ barbed wire. Wow, Doc." Caz slid the last few inches and found herself nose to nose with him.
Hockenbury shook his head slightly, completely overwhelmed by her words and her proximity. He reached out and smoothed her hair behind her ear, letting his fingers continue around the back of her neck.
"What’s Goldman think of it?" Caz laid one hand flat on his chest, feeling his heart pounding against her palm. Her other hand brushed across his cheek, fingers trailing fire across his skin.
Hockenbury’s voice was gruff. "He’s been surprisingly quiet on the matter." He pulled her to him and their lips met, tentatively at first and then with growing desire.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz stood in the doorway to the office, her shoulder propped against the jamb and her hands shoved in her pockets. Her face was hidden in her own shadow, cast by the main light of the dispensary behind her. She heaved a heavy sigh and hauled herself upright, taking two steps into the room and falling into the corner chair.
"I’m just wonderin’ how many friends those guys had with them at that restaurant? An’ how many of them ate the ‘meat of unknown origin’?" The young doctor shook her head, propping her elbows on the desk and resting her chin on her fists.
"This kid? He reminded me of my brother Mike. He’s crazy enough to eat anything, too." Caz pulled her arms around her head, laughing softly.
Hockenbury lit up a cigarette, chuckling at Caz’s ranting. He, too, had been startled by the sudden squeaking of the dispensary steps, but not totally surprised. Upset stomachs tended to come in packs. The day when L-T and the Sarge went to Long Binh. THAT was a day from hell.
He held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, feeling the soothing effect of the nicotine flood through him. "So you got a brother Mike? Don’tcha have more than one? Brother, I mean?" Squinting through the smoke, he watched Caz lift her head, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
"Yeah, I got three, all older. Mike’s the youngest one, there’s only a year and a half between us. Just one year ahead in school. He was always causin’ hell an’ always draggin’ me into it somehow. Actually, they all seemed to specialize in raisin’ Cain an’ pinnin’ it on me. Convenient stooge I guess." She grinned faintly, a far-away look in her eyes. "They’re all married now. All with kids. All of ‘em cops." Caz tucked her chin into the crook of one elbow. Her voice was muffled. "Just like my dad."
Doc coughed, his pupils huge. "Your dad AND all your brothers are cops? Remind me not to go home with you for dinner."
Caz was quick with the retort. "At least they won’t serve ya a duck’s head!" They laughed easily together.
Doc stretched one long leg out, propping it on the open desk drawer. "An’ what about your mom?" He immediately regretted asking the question as a guarded look dropped across Caz’s face.
She glanced away for a long moment, rubbing her cheek on the rough surface of her sleeve. "My mom is dead, killed in a car accident when I was ten. Mike an’ I were in the car with her. We just got bounced around, cuts an’ bruises. The front of the car was totaled." Caz filled her lungs with the humid night air and held it there briefly, gaze resolutely fixed on a spot somewhere behind Hockenbury’s head.
Doc silently smoked and watched her, the pain and guilt from her ten-year-old self almost visible to him in the dim office. An image insinuated itself in his mind, two children, elbows and knees all tangled on the floor of a car, fighting each other in their struggle to get free, screaming for their mother who would never answer their calls again. We just wanted ice cream, Mom, we’re so sorry. Hockenbury’s breath caught in his throat as a tremor crept from her fingers to the rest of her body, trembling enough that she sat bolt upright, angry at her body’s betrayal of her hard-fought self-control.
She shook herself and swiped her forearm across her eyes, staring at the ceiling. "My dad just seemed, well, lost after that. He didn’t know what to do with a girl. I think he always wished I’d been a boy anyway. So he treated me like one." Caz bit down on her bottom lip, eyes closed for a moment.
"He did the best he could. I played a lot of sports. He came to all my games. He wanted to teach me to shoot, go huntin’ with him an’ my brothers." Caz shook her head, her dark hair lagging behind and falling across her eyes. Shoving it behind her ears in annoyance, she glanced at the medic, the faint glow from the lamp glistening in her eyes. "I couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. I’d do just about anything for my dad. But not that."
Doc moved over to her, dropping to his knees next to her chair. Reaching behind him, he pushed the door mostly closed, leaving only an inch or two standing open. He tentatively rested one arm across her shoulders, her wiry muscles rigid under his fingers. He pulled her gently against his chest, feeling her resistance slowly ebb as she relaxed against him. Doc rested his chin on the top of her head as she laid her cheek over his heart.
The medic listened carefully, ears that were more attuned to the stealthy noises of the jungle alert to the possibility of footsteps on the creaky clinic stairs. He brought his hand up under her chin, her eyes opening wide as he brushed the tips of his fingers tenderly along her jaw. Pulling her with him, Doc stood, bringing her full length against him.
He kissed her as she slid her arms around his neck, her lips opening under his. Groaning softly, Doc leaned back on the desk, one hand moving to the small of her back and holding her tightly to him.
Caz moved with him, running her fingers through his hair and down his neck, felt his pulse bounding wildly. Sliding his hands up her back and under her hair, Doc found Caz’s skin slick with perspiration. He smiled against her lips, leaning back slightly to look at her before kissing his way down to her ear, lightly nipping the lobe. She breathed in sharply, her eyes closing as he kissed her throat, licking the salty sweat from her skin.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz stood just inside the screen door, hoping to catch a breeze, knowing there wasn’t one to be found in the heavy, humid air. As if a current of air could cool the heat in her body anyway. She reached her hands back over her shoulders, deftly pulling her hair into a thick ponytail and secured it with a length of rubber tubing from the phlebotomy tray.
Hockenbury sat behind Hall’s desk, his lanky frame reclined in the ancient leather chair, long legs stretched before him and crossed at the ankle. Left eye swollen almost entirely shut, he watched her with the right, squinting in the dim light. Watched her tie up her hair and found himself aching to free it again, a pain that took him quite by surprise and left him silent, reaching for his cigarettes in his confusion.
The sounds of the camp filled the dispensary, noise the pair could truthfully say they hadn’t heard twenty minutes before. Muffled laughter rose from a passing group of men, no doubt returning to their hootch from a night of drinking and telling tall tales at the Team House. Their voices lingered in the night, gradually fading, giving way to the hum of insects and sodium vapor lamps .
Turning from the door, Caz walked slowly across the floor, sliding her hands deep into her pockets and hugging her elbows tightly against her ribs. She saw Hockenbury light up, inhaling deeply with obvious relief. Smiling, she met his gaze as he looked up at her, a wry grin tugging at his mouth.
Doc set his lighter on the desk, turning it over with his thumb a few times, aligning it carefully with Hall’s pens and then knocking it slightly askew. Finally he picked it up and prepared to drop it into his breast pocket, eyes growing wide with alarm as he patted the empty fabric before he remembered: Caz’s book was sitting in his locker, wrapped in a towel in an effort to dry the cover.
Caz’s eyebrows rose. "Somethin’ wrong?"
"No, Caz, everything is perfect. Well, as perfect as it can be seein’ as we’re surrounded by hordes of soldiers, in the middle of a SOG base, in a dispensary open to anybody who feels the need to walk in…" His voice trailed off in a soft laugh, his eyes never leaving hers.
Cassidy felt the heat rising in her cheeks, knew she was blushing and could do nothing to stop it. She moved to an examining table, carefully folding back the clean sheet and hiked herself up on it, swinging her booted feet like a little kid. Lowering her hands next to her thighs, she gripped the edge of the table, hoping to still the adrenaline rush she still felt running through her. And through him.
"So, what’s the story with Goldman?" Studying the worn wood floor, Caz felt rather than saw the medic flinch, looking up to find him staring into space, his cigarette burning forgotten between his fingers. "I saw him that night, in the Team House, remember?"
Shrugging, Doc carefully set the cigarette butt in the c-rat ashtray. He shoved his hair off his forehead, fingers brushing the bandage and he winced in pain at the light touch. "I keep forgettin’ this." Doc pointed at his head, grimacing ruefully.
Caz nodded, bringing her feet to a halt, and sat perfectly still. She could feel the tension in Hockenbury, almost see it floating around him, hovering, dark and heavy. The guard hairs on her arms and the back of her neck prickled, itching. Be very careful…
"I looked up, Doc, an’ caught his eye. It was like lookin’ into never-ending night. An’ cold." Shivering despite the heat, Caz ran her hands up and down her arms, then pulled her fatigue shirt tighter around herself.
Hockenbury silently watched her, fingers reaching subconsciously for the cigarette, tamping off the ashes and bringing it slowly to his lips. As he inhaled, his perception of her sharpened, magnified by the nicotine. He’d known she was like him, knew it from that first encounter in the chow hall. Like Goldman, too, not that the L-T would admit to it in a million years. She had that awareness of people, something akin to empathy, but somehow more than that. An ability to not only know a person’s emotions but to feel them, too.
"What happened to him?" Caz’s voice was no more than a husky whisper. She swallowed hard, suddenly wishing she hadn’t asked, hadn’t THOUGHT to ask. The young doctor stared back at Hockenbury, hoping she hadn’t gone too far.
The medic shifted uneasily in the chair, its metal joints squeaking under his weight, the cushion breathing its own protest. He crossed and recrossed his legs, finally giving up and standing, stretching his lanky frame in a tendon-snapping arc.
"I didn’t know him…before." Doc slid his hands into his pockets, shrugging lightly as he wandered away from Hall’s desk, away from Caz perched on the gurney. He stopped at the door to the supply closet, leaning on it with one shoulder, his back to the doctor.
Cassidy held her breath, motionless.
"He’d been wounded, decided to come in from the field. He had this girlfriend, Miss Devlin, Alex. She was a journalist. I never met her."
Not just a girlfriend. Caz shook her head slowly, sensing what the medic wasn’t saying. That Alex had been EVERYTHING to Goldman and that his coming in from the field had less to do with his injury than his devotion to the woman.
Doc looked at the floor, raising his shoulders slightly and lowering them with a sigh. "Anyways, on the day…the day…it HAPPENED, we had a mission. My first AND we had a cherry L-T. Goldman was there when we left, leanin’ on a cane an’ just watchin’ us leave. He had his hand over his eyes, shading his face." Hockenbury turned, the shadows of the room darkening the bruise on his cheek. He rubbed one hand absently over his temple, messaging it gently.
Looking up at Caz, he continued, his voice tight with remembered anxiety. "The new L-T got himself killed, called in arty on top of himself an’ his RTO. I tried…I couldn’t do anythin’ for them." Doc’s shoulders drooped and he glanced away, gaze traveling around the room, not settling on any one thing. He sighed and walked slowly across the rough wood floor, the bone-deep fatigue evident as he dragged the toe of each boot, barely avoiding tripping with each step.
"We finally got outta there, saved a few, lost a few. I don’t know if we did what we were supposed to be doing mission-wise or not. I know I didn’t see anything past those kids bleeding on the ground." The medic sighed, hitching one hip on the exam table opposite Caz.
"Goldman was there again when we landed, talkin’ to Sergeant Anderson. I don’t know what about, I was kinda busy." He looked away from the doctor, embarrassed that he’d lost his lunch, breakfast, too, at the side of the chopper pad. He felt his cheeks grow hot at the memory and lowered his head, hiding his face from Cassidy.
"Anyway, that night we were all in the Base Club. Anderson had been in earlier, but left. He came back, went to the table where the guys were. I wasn’t with them, I was…at another table." Wasn’t one of them, not then. Not now. Hockenbury’s hands closed slowly into fists, the muscles in his forearms corded with tension.
Cassidy watched the medic, felt that overwhelming sense of loneliness settle over him, and forced herself to be still. Her limbs were heavy with weariness and she fought the desire to stretch out on the gurney and escape to dreamless sleep.
Doc swallowed, cleared his throat. "Anderson told them that Miss Devlin had been killed by a bomb in Saigon. An’ that Lieutenant Goldman had been there, but he wasn’t injured."
Hockenbury’s head snapped up. He could have sworn he’d heard Caz say the word aloud. But her mouth was shut, lips pressed in a thin line.
He was silent a moment, eyes closed as he remembered Goldman arriving back in camp, slumped in the passenger seat of a jeep, his cane propped between his knees. That dark head bowed to his chest, refusing to look up, refusing to meet the eyes of the men who’d gathered for his return. Hockenbury had stood in the shadows, not knowing the man, but drawn to his misery all the same.
Caz dragged a sleeve across her eyes, a vision of the young man she’d seen for only a moment in the Team House forcing its way into her conscious mind. Twilight turning him into a shadow in a circle of sandbags. A cane clutched in his fists, held tightly against his forehead as he fought his emotions, fought feeling anything at all. A wall slowly surrounding him, building itself brick by brick until he was hidden from sight.
Dragging her head up, Cassidy found herself looking directly into Hockenbury’s questioning eyes, his warm concern spilling over her. Fresh tears threatened and she blinked rapidly, fighting for her own control. She sniffed loudly.
"And that, Caz, is what happened to Lieutenant Goldman." Hockenbury pulled himself fully onto the gurney, lighting yet another cigarette. He inhaled deeply, waiting for the spread of the nicotine to calm his jangling nerves.
Caz nodded, not wanting to comment, feeling that she’d intruded too far already. She felt Doc’s relief in sharing the story. She wasn’t so sure Goldman would feel the same. At least now she understood the lieutenant’s studied indifference and the chill she felt whenever she caught sight of him around the camp. Understood it all too well.
The medic glanced at his watch, groaning to himself at the lateness of the hour. He slid his feet to the floor, standing up slowly and yawned. "I’m sorry, Caz, but I gotta get goin’." Reaching out one long arm, he helped her to her feet and stood back, reluctantly releasing her.
"Ya know, Specialist, you need a good night’s sleep. And I need to see you tomorrow morning, gotta change that bandage." She smiled at him, white teeth flashing in the dim light. Crossing her arms over her chest, Caz fought the urge to step into his arms, knowing they’d taken too many chances already that evening.
Hockenbury grinned back, well aware of her thoughts. "I’ll be here bright an’ early, Doctor, you can count on that." He walked slowly toward the door, stopping at the screen and turning back to her. "Thank you for tonight’s…treatment, ma’am."
Caz blushed, her eyes not leaving his. "I think you’ll be in need of plenty more… treatments."
He pulled open the screen, pausing as
he stepped over the threshold and glanced back at her, his face suddenly
serious. "I think I'll need them the rest of my life, Caz."
He vanished into the night, the squeaky step letting out a brief protest
as he clattered down the stairs.